Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Local News

South Coast Researcher Discovers New Species Of Sponges

(Photo by Thomas Turner)
A California spiny lobster hides under a Scopalina jali, one of the new species of sponge discovered by UC Santa Barbara researcher Thomas Turner.

Some are in ocean right off Santa Barbara County coastline

A South Coast researcher has been discovering some previously undocumented types ocean life literally in our backyard. He’s discovered five new species of sponges, and says there are more to be identified.

Dr. Thomas Turner is an Associate Professor in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology. Turner says while sponges are a common part of sea life along the Central and South Coasts, many don’t match the images we have of the creatures.

Many of the ones along our coastline aren't the colorful ones we picture from tropical ocean waters. They almost blend in with rocks.

Turner talks about the unique lives of sponges. He says they are porous, with their body shapes like a filter to catch the microorganism and bacteria which sustain them. And, he says while their exact lifespan is unknown, they can live for decades.

Turner's discoveries include a sponge which he found in the ocean near Gaviota, Galaxia gaviotensis, with the common name of Gaviota galaxy sponge.

(Photo courtesy Thomas Turner)
UC Santa Santa Barbara researcher Thomas Turner doing some of his sponge research off the Santa Barbara County coastline.

The researcher has collected hundreds of sponge samples during dives along the California Coast. He then uses genetic testing to identify them. Turner admits there’s still a lot we don’t know about how the lives of sponges. He believes that developing a baseline may help us use them as another measure of the health of the ocean, in the face off issues like pollution and climate change.

Turner believes there are still many unidentified species of sponges literally in our tidal pools, and even just 15 to 20 feet below the ocean’s surface:
Turner’s latest findings were just published in the scientific journal Zootaxa.